This is the first post in my series on Tactics Ogre. Check out: (2) four things it does better than FFT (and one it doesn’t); (3) how I used different character classes in battle; (4) an unfortunate mishap later in the game; and (5) my verdict on the game.
One hour into Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, the PSP tactical RPG, and I’m already impressed. I like its art and its music, but production values are never the be-all and end-all. Its gameplay has made a good first impression, but one hour is nowhere near enough to get a feel. And the game’s protagonist, Denam Pavel, so far is a blank slate.
No, what impressed me so much was how the game fleshed out the most minor of its characters.
(Spoilers for the first few battles of the game follow.)
Your very first real opponent during the game’s tutorial is Bapal the Mercenary, who threatens the heroes in decidedly non-standard English (“There’s two thousand Goth on that one’s head, boys! Half the purse to him what brings him down!”) and who claims to know “a man from [your homeland] when I see one!”… only to completely mis-identify the person he’s referring to. I wrote him off as a none-too-bright thug – suitable fodder for a tutorial battle – and soon enough, my NPC allies wrote him off the face of the earth.
Next up is a knight named Sir Agares, who blusters about “rebel swine” and how “a craven who would choose lucre over loyalty deserves only one reward”. I dismissed Agares as a pompous fool, and sent him to join his mercenary compatriot.
Once the battles were over, and I was back on the world map, I took a look at the in-game character profiles. There were heroes and heroines, lords and kings and knights. And right at the bottom, there were entries for Bapal and Agares. Hmm, what could they say?
“Bapal the Mercenary
At the start of the war he led a group of bandits based in the Phorampa Wildwood, but a desire to defend his homeland prompted him to enlist as a man-at-arms.
Though an experienced fighter, he lacked an understanding of the art of warfare, and was often mocked by other soldiers. In an attempt to prove himself, he led an offensive against partisans at Almorica Castle.
However, his poor reputation was only compounded when he was slain by those he sought to bring to justice. He met his end at the hands of Denam, the Hero of Golyat himself.”
Fodder for a tutorial battle, yes, but now Bapal seemed more pathetic than contemptible. What about Agares?
He was brother to Baronet Bazin of Auslan, a town in the Coritanae marches. Sir Agares was sent to reinforce the Almorica garrison, who were struggling to hold off attacks by the Duke’s men.
Despite his noble upbringing, he was an approachable and well-respected commander.
He led the defence of Almorica Castle in the place of the absent Consul Obdilord, but was slain by Denam Pavel.”
I did not feel quite so smug after reading that.
My next battle was against Orba Brondel, the wizard. As he lay dying on the grasses of the Tynemouth Hill, his last words were a lament: “This is not the place to die.” After the battle, I checked his profile:
“The Magus Orba
He was the son of renowned architect Selba Brondel. Selba created many famed buildings, such as Hellingham Palace, also known as the Hanging Gardens. Orba taught at the Coritanae Academy of Arts while painting numerous works in his spare time. One of these, named ‘Opalescent Clouds,’ was presented to the late King Dorgalua and now hangs in Helm Castle.
Orba was a major proponent of the nationalism espoused by Hierophant Balbatos, and he volunteered to take up arms soon after war broke out. He encountered Resistance forces at Tynemouth while en route to Almorica, and was slain by Denam Pavel.”
Now, from the viewpoint of the player and the heroes, these characters are utter non-entities. From a gameplay perspective, their only function is to give you a not-particularly-tough leader to target in each battle. From a plot perspective, they may as well have been nameless red shirts: they appear once each, get two or three lines, and then die at the player’s hands. You can play the game without ever needing to learn about Orba’s hobby for painting or the esteem in which Agares’ soldiers held him.
But these characters do matter to the overall storytelling experience. Take the time to read the profiles, and you’ll discover three patriots willing to fight for their country, who lived three distinct lives to varying degrees of fulfilment – ex-bandit, lordling, amateur but accomplished painter – until the respective days they met Denam Pavel. From a thematic perspective, this serves two purposes. One, it reinforces that each of us is the hero of our own story. And two, it’s a subtle way to hint at the pity of war, which brings those stories to such sudden ends. (I strongly suspect that the tragedy of war will end up being a major theme, in which case this is one way the game brings it across.) Not too bad, for a bunch of one-off foes who don’t even get their own character artwork! My hat is off to the game’s creators for their attention to detail here, and I have high hopes that the rest of the game will live up to this promising first impression.